Catherine Whitby of Yarralumla with 6 week old, Alexander Beckett. Photo: Rohan Thomson
According to her husband, Catherine Whitby snored like a wildebeest when she was pregnant. The couple dismissed it as just another normal, though incredibly loud, side effect of growing another human being, but new Australian research has found that snoring during pregnancy can harm unborn babies.
Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the ANU Medical School Steven Robson is leading a project looking at snoring in pregnancy and early findings show it may actually be a form of obstructive sleep apnoea. The effect of weight gain during pregnancy, which is a leading cause of obstructive sleep apnoea, has been overlooked until now and Dr Robson said the sleep disorder can cause fetal growth restriction, pre-eclampsia and fetal death.
''For most of my 23 years delivering babies, the thinking was that pregnant women snoring was quite normal. However, over the last year it has become clear that this may not be the case,'' Dr Robson said.
And the obstetrician is trying to raise awareness about the condition.
''Almost nobody seems to be aware of the snoring-in-pregnancy/OSA connection at the moment, including family doctors.''
Ms Whitby, 32, gave birth to her second child Alexander six weeks ago.
''It's something women need to discuss with their doctors, but I think it would certainly help if they were aware that snoring is not just one of those unfortunate side effects of pregnancy in addition to feeling like a whale,'' Ms Whitby said.
In adults, four separate studies have found conclusive evidence that sleep apnoea is associated with increased rates of hypertension and, left untreated, patients with sleep apnoea are at a greater risk of developing kidney disease or vision problems, or having a heart attack or stroke.
While a new study has linked frequent interruptions in sleep and the reduced oxygen in the brain to the brain's ability to form and protect long-term memories.
Dr Robson said studies in Melbourne and Sydney put pregnant women in sleep labs for the night but it was very expensive and disruptive.
''I am leading a project looking a simple home monitoring, where women take a tiny sleep monitor home, it's about the size of a cigarette packet, as non-PC as that description is.''
And the study has already led to one women being diagnosed with sleep apnoea and being treated with a continuous positive airway pressure mask which pumps cold air into the mouth.
''During the period of our interest in snoring and OSA, one of my patients has already been diagnosed with OSA and was treated with a CPAP mask, so the condition is definitely around when you look for it.''